Guest Reviewer: Gillian POtter-Merrigan
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Creating a new version of a classic is always a mission fraught with danger. Will the original mood of the play be lost in translation? I am happy to report, that with a few minor details, the National Theatre’s new adaptation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler by Patrick Marber manages largely to retain the same malevolent and desperate tone as the original whilst updating the story both visually and adding another layer with the inclusion of musical interludes.
Hedda is trapped in a marriage she despises – slowly losing her grip on herself and those around her. Lizzy Watts‘ Hedda is depicted with an underplayed desperation that remains just a whisper from insanity. The whole cast move seamlessly from cowed to controlling within the narrative providing a fine ensemble performance. However, Adam Best as Bract, the judge and some would say the jury on Hedda, stands out in his role as the eventual winner in the game of mental cat and mouse with a shocking denouement that drives Hedda to her last act of nonconformity albeit one which will create the scandal she has always feared.
The desperation of the characters is palpable largely to a perfect set designed by Jan Versweyweld; a blank cold white box with the characters observed like rats trapped in a box. Blinds filter the sun to become prison bars and the lighting is used by Verweywald to show the shifting dynamics within the group, especially the use of shadows. At the start, Hedda’s shadow looms large over the others but with her increasing inability to manipulate the story that unfolds her shadow decreases mirroring her own waning influence. The lighting as we watch Hedda breathe her last is particularly bleak. The staging also cleverly extends to using the spaces within the auditorium to include the audience along with the placing of the actors on the stage, stepping forward only when their roles dictate. This mechanism gives the play an almost doll’s house feel with characters being played with by both the audience and Hedda only when they are needed.
A couple of things are confusing; if there is an entry screen for the front door why is other technology missing? Also, the positioning of the entry screen largely obscures it from the audience. However, these are merely footnotes in what is an unmissable provoking and entertaining retelling of Ibsen’s treaty on the female psyche.
However these minor issues aside it is a mesmerising and reflective production and, unlike Hedda, you could wish for nothing more.
Hedda Gabler runs at The Lowry, Salford Quays until 4th November 2017.